Saturday, March 31, 2012

Little League Rules Myths

The runner must slide on a tag play... You must cross 1st Base into foul territory... A tie goes to the runner... The hands are part of the bat...

The above statements are all myths, and only a small handful of the many myths that pop up on Little League fields all over the world. If you want the truth about those and all the other popular myths regarding the Little League rule book, check out this page put together by the Florida District 9 Umpires Association. Good stuff to know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What's Better - More Games or More Practice?

I encourage you to read this post by pitching instructor Dick Mills about the rise of young travel/select/challenge baseball teams that place their primary focus on playing as many games as they can, and sacrifice the practice time needed for their players to develop the skills and mechanics necessary to improve and advance in the game. Mills clearly believes that these teams need to place more of an emphasis on skills development.

I agree completely. At ages 8-12, and probably beyond, serious ballplayers must develop proper mechanics for hitting, pitching, fielding, throwing and catching. Sure, they need to play against competition in order to learn the game, gain experience and build confidence. But if in doing so, they continue to perpetuate the same old incorrect mechanics, then they are probably wasting their time and money if they want to continue in the game past their early teen years.

At the youth level, players can get by on natural coordination, strength and athleticism. But if you go watch a high school game, you rarely see a player with a bad swing, awkward throwing motion or weak glove work. And you never see it at the college level. The players that make it that far were taught at a young age how to do things correctly. They got the instruction, practiced it enough to build correct muscle memory, and then they put it to use in games. They didn't just play as many games as they could from the time they were 8 years old.

If I am paying for my child to play on a select youth team - I'm not, so this is purely hypothetical -  then I am paying for skills development. I am paying for instruction in addition to the games. If there are more games than practices... if there is rarely any one-on-one instruction... or if my child's mechanical flaws are never corrected - then I wonder if the coaching staff has the knowledge and ability to really teach baseball. I also wonder if I have wasted my money.

Monday, March 26, 2012

More On Strasburg and Fixing Poor Mechanics Early

A couple of people have sent me a set of great articles from ESPN the Magazine that I don't want to be buried in the comments section of the post below. First, Lindsay Berra has written a long article about Stephen Strasburg, what leads to UCL injuries, and MLB's reluctance to fix the mechanical problems in question.

This makes me think more than ever that it's important for youth coaches to ensure proper mechanics at a young age. You can't just count pitches - you have to teach them how to pitch the ball first. As Dr. Andrews says in the article,"The No. 1 risk factor for UCL injuries is poor mechanics. The No. 2 factor is overuse. And if you overuse with poor mechanics, you're doomed."  

The place to start teaching correct mechanics may be the wall drill that Al Leiter demonstrates below. And for an example of a pitcher that did it the right way, check out this comparison of Greg Maddux and Strasburg.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Strasburg Back from Injury With the Same Mechanics

Stephen Strasburg will start for the Washington Nationals on Opening Day. It's great to see the young pitching phenom back from injury and Tommy John surgery. But will he be able to last an entire season? The Nats have said they will limit his innings to help protect his arm and try to make that happen. One might hope that his mechanics - which have been analyzed before in great detail because of his "inverted W" and the stress it can put on his arm - would have been adjusted some during his rehab period.

But check out this follow-up MLB Network Diamond Demo where Al Leiter shows us how Strasburg's mechanics are unchanged. As a youth coach, the phrase that jumps out at me is: "It's not easy - he's been throwing like that since he was 10 years old." And he's right - the older they get, the harder it is to change a player's mechanics. The muscle memory is more ingrained and less willing to adjust. That's why it's important to teach correct mechanics at a young age. Don't save the instruction for later. By the time that special player gets through high school, the damage may already be done and it will be harder to fix.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Selected Reading Material 3-12-12

Young Arms and Curveballs: A Scientific Twist by Bill Pennington, NY Times - Not exactly new information, but a timely look at the latest in the debate.

Challenge Sports Really Test Parents by Tracy Curtis, Charlotte Observer - A local take on what that additional team means for the parents.

More Youth Play Isn't a Winner for Everybody by Dr. Richard Hinton, Baltimore Sun - Using lacrosse as an example, explores the effects of specialization.

Top 10 Youth Coaching Pearls of Wisdom

Humans like to pass down "wisdom" to the next generation, whether it's wise or not. Just for fun, here are some of the great youth coaching catchphrases to be on the lookout for this season. We are all guilty at one time or another.

1. Just throw strikes... If only it were that easy.

2. Get that elbow up... And then tuck it in correctly in the blink of an eye.

3. Throw over the top... A good recipe for shoulder pain.

4. Reach back and fire... If you are a stiff-armed catapult.

5. A walk's as good as a hit... Not usually.

6. Great swing... Perhaps, but if it was that good, you probably would've hit the ball.

7. Have a level swing... Level to what?

8. Feet shoulder width apart... A good recipe for a choppy swing.

9. Have fun!!!... Yes sir!

10. Watch for the changeup!... And good luck being ready for this here fastball.

Leave a comment if you have any more gems.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Dose of Perspective for Us Dads

I recently came across the following post on a message board. This is a good reminder of what it's all about as we head into another new season........

"After visiting this site for awhile, I saw this thread and just had to add my special memory. My son liked to play baseball but was never great at it. He wasn't talented enough to play high school ball but he played summer ball whether it was Little League or Babe Ruth, He never made any all star teams or such. He was just good enough to start. Most of all, he liked to play Babe Ruth ball with his friends. The boys just had a good time even though success was hard to find. During a Senior Babe Ruth game one night, my son was playing first and a fly ball was hit behind first into short right field. He turned and hustled to make an over the head catch that Willie Mays would have been proud of. I just stood there not believing what I just saw. I was in awe. Before I could make my way out of the dugout (I was on scorebook duty) to congratulate him, he had already returned the ball to the pitcher and was in stance for the next defensive play. With the next pitch, a ball was hit to second and he dropped a perfect throw at first. I told him when he came in how pretty the fly ball catch was and then asked him what happened on the throw from second. I can remember how fast his smile changed into a lowered head. To this day, I regret not making a bigger deal out of the great catch. And now I can't. My son was killed almost two years ago, months after making that catch. I responded to this thread so I could tell the dads out there to make sure you appreciate the memories you have and ones to come. Make sure your son has a smile on his face after the game. More importantly, make sure you do to. Always be positive and somehow forget the "bad". Believe me, winning or losing a baseball game just isn't that important anymore. I would give anything to see that smile again."